Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Lorenzo Ghiberti's east door of the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence, long famed as the Gates of Paradise, displays Old Testament stories in sculptural relief on ten gilded bronze panels. Stressing the significance of the Gates of Paradise as a public monument imbedded in the fabric of Florentine society will enhance our understanding of the cultural use of the door within its built environment. Consideration of its context could in turn clarify the motivation behind the choices for the iconographical program. Previous studies of the Gates of Paradise tend to isolate each narrative panel rather than examining the Gates as one door made up of ten unified panels (including decorative framing). As a result, the Gates of Paradise have rarely been looked at in terms of architectural function or context. The approach of the present study focuses on the Gates of Paradise as a significant architectural feature of Florence's built environment, as a feature that functioned as a centerpiece for the Baptistery and the Cathedral complex, and as a setting for the many spectacles that took place in that environment.
This investigation aims to define the inseparable religious and civic functioning of the Gates of Paradise and to identify connections between specific function and the iconographical program. The research examines in depth the imagery of the Gates of Paradise, scrutinizing the function of the Gates within its physical setting, in the ceremonies of baptism, and in the regular rituals of the Florentine liturgical calendar. This hitherto-unexamined analysis of the Florentine liturgical ritual utilizes Medieval and Renaissance service books such as the Ritus in ecclesia servandi, Mores et consuetudines canonice florentine, Missal Ms. Edili 107 (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana), and the Missale romanum Mediolani, 1474. The examination of the Gates' function offers illumination of the possible meaning(s) conveyed by the choice of biblical narratives that make up the program. Research suggests that the iconographical program for the Gates of Paradise connects predominantly to its major function as the principal ritual entrance for the Baptistery. The program reiterates the liturgy for the season leading up to the Church's traditional celebratory period of baptism and the baptismal liturgy. While most days throughout the year the south portal was used for the daily baptismal ceremony, this special baptism-related use of the Gates reinforce the liturgy of the season which teaches and emphasizes the significance of the sacrament of baptism and the role of the Church in salvation.
Copyright 2011 Gwynne Ann Dilbeck
Dilbeck, Gwynne Ann. "Opening the gates of paradise: function and the iconographical program of Ghiberti's bronze door." dissertation, University of Iowa, 2011.